NCAA First Round: Western Washington 79, Grand Canyon 73
March 9, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Guard John Allen (Jr., Brier/Mountlake Terrace) scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the first half as Western Washington University built a 25-point lead, but the Vikings had to hold off a furious comeback from Grand Canyon University in the second half before earning a 79-73 win in the final game of Friday's first round of the West Regional of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the campus of host Western Washington University.
The Vikings (26-5), the No.1 seed in the West Region, will play No. 5 seed Chico State (25-7) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the second semifinal game. Second-seed Alaska Anchorage (22-6) meets third-seed Seattle Pacific (22-7) in the first semifinal game at 5 p.m.
"It's the NCAA Tournament and everything is heightened certainly," said WWU head coach Brad Jackson (27th year). "It was a good team win and it was really nice to fight through the second half and obviously we are pleased with the outcome."
WWU jumped to a 14-1 lead in the first 3:44 of the game. After Rory Blanche (Sr., Ashland, OR) hit a jumper to start the game, Allen scored the Vikings' next seven points. Grand Canyon finally got on the board with a free throw, but Blanche hit a jumper and Chris Mitchell nailed a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 13 points. Later in the half, WWU had runs of 7-0 to go ahead 25-9 and 6-0 to stretch its lead to 31-11.
The Vikings eventually went on top by 25 at 42-17 with four minutes left in the first half and were up by 21 at halftime, 48-27.
"(The 14-1 start) was good," Jackson said. "We talked at halftime about the importance of wiping that out coming out in the second half, knowing that this team wasn't going to quit. They are a well-coached ball team and they fought hard but we maintained that cushion and battled each possession."
But, Grand Canyon, which ended its season at 19-8, chipped away in the second half cutting the deficit to a 12 points on four different occasions. WWU rebuilt its lead to 18 at 63-45 on a layup by Allen with 12:41 remaining and maintained a double-digit advantage until a three-pointer by reserve Blake Davis at 5:54 and a layup by forward Jerome Garrison pulled the Antelopes within nine, 70-61, with 5:19 remaining.
Davis added a layup at 4:26 to pull Grand Canyon to within seven with 4:26 remaining. The Antelopes climbed to within six at 71-65 with 3:46 left on two free throws by Blake and again at 73-67 on a jumper by Justin Wesolowski with 3:05 to go.
But Blanche's jumper with 1:47 left re-established the lead at eight. Two baskets by Braylon Pickrel cut the Vikings' lead to four with 44 seconds remaining, but WWU finally put the game away at the foul line as Cameron Severson (Jr., Petersburg, AK) made two with 28 seconds left and Blanche converted two more with 16 seconds remaining to open the lead back to eight.
Allen made six of seven shots in the opening period, finishing the contest with 10 field goals in 16 attempts. Blanche was also in double figures with 16 points, making all six of his field goal attempts.
The Antelopes, who had won nine straight, made 19 of 29 second-half shots (65.5 percent) to key their comeback and also benefited from 12 of 26 free throw shooting by WWU, which converted just seven of 18 in the second half.
For the game, WWU shot 52.5 percent (31-of-59) after firing at a 59.4 percent clip (19-of-32) in the opening 20 minutes. Grand Canyon rebounded from a 34.8 percent first half (8-of-23) to finish the game at 51.9 percentage (27-of-52).
Vikings grab early lead and hang on for win
ANDREW LANG / THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Even with a 25-point lead, Western Washington men's basketball coach Brad Jackson had a feeling Grand Canyon wasn't going to end its season without putting up a fight.
As brilliant as the Vikings were in the first half during Friday night's NCAA Division II West Regional first round game, Western found a way to let the Antelopes creep back into the game in the second half one bucket, one missed Western free throw at a time.
"Well, like I said before, everyone is going to play," Jackson said."Nobody is going to quit. They started hitting baskets, and we kind of hit a dead spot. But we were able to make big plays and regroup down the stretch."
Despite tightening up and nearly allowing Grand Canyon to tie the game late, the Vikings' outstanding first-half performance and hustle plays down the stretch gave Western a 79-73 win in front of a raucous home crowd at Carver Gym.
The win keeps WWU's season alive and advances the Vikings to the West Regional semis.
"It was great," WWU guard John Allen said. "Anytime you get a win in front of your home crowd it's exciting."
Allen wasted no time getting going Friday night. He helped spark a 14-1 scoring run to start the game and scored 10 of Western's first 20 points of the contest.
WWU was clicking on both ends early, scoring in transition and creating a number of turnovers which caused the eighth-seeded Antelopes to call two timeouts within the first four minutes.
"It was real important," said Jackson, referring to how the initial scoring run set the tone for the game. "We really came ready to play tonight, and we were able to get the crowd involved early."
While the Vikings' up-and-down the court offensive play stood out in the first half, it was Western's defense that was most impressive during the first 20 minutes of the contest.
Grand Canyon took nearly five minutes to score its first field goal, and Western held the Antelopes to 34.8 percent shooting from the field in the first.
"In the first half, I thought our defense was really good," Jackson said. "I think they were a bit shell shocked at first."
Jackson left the starting rotation of Allen, Rory Blanche, Chris Mitchell, Zach Henifin and Richard Woodworth in for the first 10 minutes, and Western was able to keep up its suffocating pressure when Rico Wilkins, Paul Jones and Dane Thorpe entered the game.
WWU took its biggest lead of the first half, 42-17, with 3 minutes, 55 seconds to go on an Allen layup and cruised to 48-27 halftime lead in what appeared to be a laugher of a game.
But after the break, GCU quickly captured the momentum and didn't let go.
Led by Grand Canyon's Braylon Pickrel, who scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, the Antelopes went on a 9-0 run to open the second.
After shooting just under 35 percent from the field in the first half, GCU shot 65.5 percent in the second half and forced the Vikings to watch their once 25-point lead slowly, slowly disappear.
A Pickrel bucket cut Western's lead 52-40 with 15:30 to go, but a huge dunk by Jones helped WWU push its lead back to 65-48 with 11:32 left.
Over the next 10 minutes, GCU slowly chipped at Western's lead, and went on a 23-10 run to cut Western's lead to 75-71 - GCU's closest margin of the second half.
After Western missed a handful free throws, Cameron Severson, who saw just four minutes in the game, calmly closed the door on Grand Canyon's comeback bid by calmly knocking down both his free throws to give Western a 77-71 lead with 30 seconds left.
"It's the NCAA Tournament and everything is heightened, certainly," Jackson said. "It was a good team win, and it was really nice to fight through the second half. And obviously we are pleased with the outcome."
Allen led all scorers with 24 points. Blanche added 16 and although Henifin only scored three points, the senior hauled in 10 boards and made huge hustle plays down the stretch.
The Vikings play Chico State in the NCAA Division II West Regional semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at Carver Gym.
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